If you tell people that you've taken teensy, just-born babies out on the water—be it in a raft, a sailboat, or a 15-horsepower runabout—invariably, the first question you'll get is, “They make lifejackets that small?” Yes, in fact, they do.
But not all infant PFDs are created equal. When our older daughter, Pippa, was a month old and traveled to Stony Lake for the first time, my mother rustled up some ancient lifejacket from the depths of the boathouse that looked like it’d been around since my infancy a billion years ago. It had surely been an adequate piece of flotation apparatus in its day, but its day was most definitely past. The chest and back flotation panels had faded from rescue-me! orange to rust-colored sepia, and the buckle on the crotch strap had to be re-threaded. We used it for a few weeks, and even cinched down to its tightest, most compact size, it still swallowed the baby. She was all PFD, no Pippa (exhibit A). Surprisingly, it didn’t seem to bother her that the zipper rode up to her chin and she could barely flap her little arms—swaddled in her lifejacket, she zonked out the minute we started the engine. But what killed the deal for us was the float test: When, a few weeks in, we tossed the PFD into the lake—sans baby, of course—it sopped up water like a sponge and listed ominously to port.
We were about to unearth another similar mini PFD from the mountain of lifejackets in the back hall when a cottage friend clued me into The World’s Best Infant Life Jacket, Period. Made by Canadian marine safety company Salus, the Bijoux offers a radical re-think on standard PFD design. Instead of a scaled-down, beefed-up adult jacket—zipping and buckling across the chest and securing with a crotch strap—the Bijoux is designed to go on like a mesh harness between the legs, and its one-piece front flotation panel buckles on either side of the neck. This gives it a snug fit without dreaded chin-pinch and ensures that the baby will turn face up in the water. Key!